Several weeks ago, we awoke to a rather large black and yellow garden spider and her rather ornate web stretched outside across our kitchen window. The web was anchored to the window and to the adjacent screen of our screened in porch. So the web is actually in the corner between the window and the porch. I found myself feeling just a tad bit giddy upon spotting the yellow and black arachnid, because even though I find spiders a tad bit creepy, I also find them incredibly fascinating to watch. Life outside my tiny kitchen window was about to get a lot more entertaining, at least for a few weeks anyway.
This has happened a few times before at the end of summer and early fall (spiders building large webs in various windows of our house). My young sons often used to name these spiders. There was Henry, whose name was suddenly switched to “Henrietta” after the eggs sacs appeared. There was Hilda, the big orange and black spider who was with us for Halloween and who, I might add, was the perfect Halloween spider. There was Roy (don’t ask me why we named a spider Roy- he just looked like a Roy but I’m sure Roy was actually a female). My sons used to awaken for school early in the mornings and raise the den window shade just as the spider was beginning the long hard work of reconstructing her web for the day. We learned a lot over the years watching those spiders. We checked out books at the library to learn all we could. We enjoyed watching the spider eating the previous days web, and then spinning a new web. We were amazed at just how intricate a process it was and how very hard the spider worked. We watched the spiders sit on those webs motionless it seemed for hours at a time and how they could move at breakneck speed when a bug landed in the web. We watched the spider inject venom into her prey and then how they spun their newly caught prey in silk to feast on later. We watched the eventual feast until there was just a shell of the bug left and then watched the spider “cut” the bug out of her web. Then we watched the web repair. It was all very educational and quite interesting to watch.
This new garden spider, who I’ve been calling Autumn, was very slender when she first appeared. But over the days, she got fatter and fatter and fatter. I watched her catch a roach in her web one morning. I watched as a wasp landed in her web but narrowly escaped. Yesterday I watched her catch a stink bug and wrap it in silk. I wondered what stink bugs must taste like to a spider. Eww. As Autumn got rounder, I told my husband she would soon lay an egg sac. And just a day or two later, Autumn was slim again. I journeyed outside and there at the top of the window was one very large whitish brown egg sac. From what I understand, garden spiders lay anywhere from 1-4 egg sacs and there can be 1,000 spiders in one egg sac. She’s very protective over that sac too so I just let her be. I don’t know if she’s done or if she will lay more. Only time will tell.
Autumn is a yellow garden spider, known as Argiope aurantia. They are orb weavers known for the dense silk zigzag pattern in the center of their web, called a stabilimentum. The purpose of this stabilimentum is not really known. Some scientists believe it helps camouflage the garden spider as she sits in the center of the web waiting for unsuspecting prey. Others think it serves as a warning to birds not to fly into the web (which would cause a whole lot of damage to the web and hence, more work for the spider).
Have you ever just stopped and taken the time to watch a garden spider? Have you watched how they weave their web? Catch their prey? Wrap their prey in silk? Repair their web where it’s damaged? Have you watched them make an egg sac?
I know Autumn will not live too much longer. More than likely she will die with the first frost. Soon her web spinning will slow down and she will become more lethargic. And then one morning I will awaken to an empty web and Autumn will be nowhere in sight.